A Houston startup is bringing all the dogs to the yard. Photo courtesy of Fido

Considering that Americans will reportedly spend $109.6 billion on pets this year, according to new data, it really pays to be discerning when buying. Now, Houston dog owners can stay local when shopping for their fur babies.

Houstonians Brad Madrid and Bobby Dwyer have launched Fido, a new e-commerce pet wellness brand. Available all over Houston, Texas, and indeed, the nation,

Fido products will initially start with Chill Chews and Clear Ears, both of which are scientifically formulated and aim to provide relief and comfort, per a press release. Products are lab-tested and veterinarian-approved, per the company.

Anxious pups may benefit from Chill Chews, which make training, traveling, and everyday life smoother and are said to help pets relax. The Clear Ears, meanwhile, is composed of natural ingredients such as eucalyptus and aloe and is meant to keep pets’ ears clean and clear of any wax, debris, fungus, and bacteria.

“As a professional dog trainer and breeder, I’ve worked with hundreds of dogs which has allowed me to develop a deep understanding of how dogs think and function,” said Dwyer in a statement. “Through my profession, I’ve discovered a need for products to ensure canines’ health and wellness, and it’s our mission to provide great products to make good boys even better.”

Brad Madrid and Bobby Dwyer have launched Fido, a new e-commerce pet wellness brand. Photo courtesy of Fido

Madrid and Dwyer aren’t just business partners but also brothers-in-law. Bringing science to Fido, Madrid boasts a background in pharmaceuticals, while Dwyer brings canine know-how with his experience as a dog trainer.

Both hope to see their business grow by leaps and bounds. Products are available for purchase on the website and shipping is available nationwide. Plans for products to be sold in local pet stores, as with international shipping available in the future.

If current data is any indication, Madrid and Dwyer are in the right business. A survey of 2,000 dog and cat owners found that 52 percent of respondents said they spend more money on their pets than they do on themselves each year, per GoBankingRates.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Here's the latest news from Cart.com. Photo via cart.com

Houston e-commerce startup makes C-suite appointment and acquisition

growth mode

In the past week, Houston-based Cart.com has made some big moves on its tech startup journey — including another strategic acquisition and new hire.

The end-to-end e-commerce-as-a-service provider, which recently raised a $98 million series B round of funding, announced Tony Puccetti as the company's new chief delivery officer following the acquisition of 180Commerce, a leading online sales partner.

Puccetti, who joins Cart.com from digital consultancy Blue Acorn, will manage all client deliverables for the company. Puccetti also previously served as general manager and senior vice president over e-commerce, strategym sales, and more at Onestop Internet.

"I've spent my career championing fast-growing brands in the retail space, so I recognized instantly that Cart.com's ability to deliver seamless end-to-end e-commerce support and services was a true gamechanger," Puccetti says in a news release. "I'm thrilled to be joining the team, and I'm looking forward to helping deliver the services and technologies that brands need to grow their business and realize their full potential in today's omnichannel world.

Cart.com hired Tony Puccetti as the company's new chief delivery officer. Photo via LinkedIn

Omair Tariq, Cart.com CEO, says Puccetti has the talent and experience the company's clients need.

"Cart.com has built a reputation for making big, bold promises — then delivering on them, and exceeding our customers' expectations as they scale their e-commerce brands," continues Tariq in the release. "We're delighted to be welcoming Tony to the Cart.com family, and we're looking forward to working with him to transform the tech-enabled commerce space for merchants of all sizes."

The news of Puccetti's appointment follows news of California-based 180Commerce's acquisition by Cart.com. The company was founded in 2016 following DSW's acquisition of Shoe Metro, the largest Amazon footwear reseller. According to the news release, leaders from Shoe Metro formed 180Commerce "to bring their expertise directly to brands through a tech-enabled agency service model." The company provides its clients with data-driven and tech-enabled retail strategies, tools, and resources.

"The 180Commerce value proposition has always focused on helping consumer brands grow long-term revenue and profitability by optimizing and streamlining their marketplace strategies. By joining with Cart.com, we're bringing that vision to a far wider audience while continuing to expand our offering to the brands we serve with the powerhouse of offerings Cart.com provides," says Jason Stuempfig, founder of 180Commerce. "We share Cart.com's vision for a no-hassle, fully integrated e-commerce ecosystem, and I'm delighted to be starting this new chapter in the 180Commerce story."

The acquisition means a merging of clients, services, and staff between the two companies. 180Commerce's full team will be onboarded to Cart.com under Stuempfig's leadership.

"We're thrilled to welcome the 180Commerce team into the Cart.com family as we continue to expand our offering of commerce everywhere," Tariq says in the release. "Jason turned 180Commerce into a success story by being relentlessly focused on delivering results for brands, while creating a powerful company culture in which everyone is valued. That's exactly the combination we look for at Cart.com — especially when it's paired with a commitment to using data and technology to streamline and optimize e-commerce and marketplace functions for fast-growing brands in every corner of the world."

This acquisition is the latest in a series for Cart.com. Previously, the company has acquired AmeriCommerce, Spacecraft Brands, DuMont Project, and Sauceda Industries.

"Acquisitions are central to Cart.com's growth strategy, and with the addition of 180Commerce we're underscoring our commitment to expanding into new areas and building out best-in-class capabilities across the full spectrum of e-commerce sales channels such as marketplaces," says Saheb Sabharwal, chief strategy officer at Cart.com, who leads all M&A activity, in the release. "We're looking forward to working with Jason and the 180Commerce team to drive new value for Cart.com's thousands of loyal users. We have a great process in place to integrate new companies into the Cart.com ecosystem, and we're actively seeking additional M&A opportunities as we augment our solutions for brands."

Remington Tonar, chief commercial officer and co-founder at Cart.com, also recently told InnovationMap of the company's plans on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Heading into the holidays, where potential new clients will be focusing on delivering on orders and sales, Tonar says Cart.com is expecting a busy 2022 in terms of growth. In a lot of ways, the COVID-19 pandemic played a major role in the development of e-commerce and, by extension, Cart.com.

"The pandemic has played a role in overall accelerating the growth of e-commerce as a category and an industry. That growth was going to happen anyways, but it made it more ubiquitous faster," Tonar says. "It's just commerce now. This is just how people purchase and consume things."

Stream the full podcast below.

New York City-based Vroom employs more than 900 people in the Houston area. Photo courtesy of Vroom

E-commerce company focused on car sales revs up for Houston expansion

vroom, vroom

Vroom, an e-commerce platform for buying and selling used vehicles, is driving up its presence in the Houston area.

The publicly traded company recently established a "last-mile hub" in Stafford where Vroom workers will inspect, detail, and place temporary tags on all cars being delivered or picked up in Texas. The hub is expected to serve nearly 7.1 million motorists in more than 455 ZIP codes within a 75-mile radius.

New York City-based Vroom employs more than 900 people in the Houston area. Aside from the new hub, local employees work at the company's reconditioning center, executive offices, and Texas Direct Auto and Sell Us Your Car locations. The hub is housed within Vroom's 293,000-square-foot reconditioning center. The reconditioning center alone employs almost 400 people.

Leaders of the new hub include Mary Kay Wegner, Vroom's chief logistics officer, and John Piatak, vice president of transportation.

"As Vroom's business continues to grow, we're committed to investing in the Houston area, from expanding our physical footprint, to hiring more local workers, to offering new services for our valued customers," Wegner says in a news release.

In the Houston area, the number of vehicles purchased from Vroom surged 144.6 percent from the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2021, the company says. The number of vehicles sold to Vroom in the Houston area soared 624.4 percent during the same period.

In fiscal 2020, Vroom sold 34,488 cars, up 82 percent from the same period a year earlier. Last year, the company posted revenue of nearly $915.5 billion, up almost 56 percent from the previous year.

"As the used vehicle market continues to embrace the e-commerce model, we will continue to execute our plan and invest in scaling our business and improving our customer experience as we transform the market for buying and selling used vehicles," Vroom CEO Paul Hennessy said in a March news release.

Vroom, founded in 2013, debuted as a public company in June 2020. As a private company, Vroom scooped up $1.3 billion in funding.

Last month, Vroom agreed to buy auto lender United Auto Credit for $300 million. Newport Beach, California-based United Auto Credit specializes in auto loans for buyers with spotty credit records.

Houston-based Cart.com, which equips e-commerce businesses with a suite of software services, has raised $45 million in venture capital investment since its founding in September. Photo via cart.com

Houston-based e-commerce software startup and Amazon competitor raises $25M in its series A

Money moves

An end-to-end e-commerce services provider based in Houston has closed its series A round of financing led by a Houston venture capital group.

Cart.com announced the closing of its $25 million led by Houston-based Mercury Fund and Florida-based Arsenal Growth with contribution from Austin-based Moonshots Capital and Ohio-based Scarlet Venture Fund. The new round follows its $20 million Seed round led by Amsterdam-based Bearing Ventures.

The company was founded last September by two former entrepreneurs — Omair Tariq, former executive at Home Depot and COO of Blinds.com, serves as CEO and Jim Jacobsen, co-founder and former CEO of RTIC Outdoors, serves as executive chairman.

"We know the pain points brands face in the e-commerce value chain because we have experienced them firsthand. We built Cart.com to solve those problems and deliver unequaled value for brands from a single platform," Jacobsen says in a news release.

The duo wanted to create a suite of software solutions that allows brands to "grow their e-commerce capabilities with less friction than the fragmented plug-in and vendor intensive approach available today," according to the release.

"The current e-commerce offerings favor the service providers, not the brands," Tariq says in the release. "We are on a mission to flip that dynamic and put the sellers back in charge of their e-commerce journey and their customer relationships. Our team will continue to obsess over our brands' success, so they can obsess over their customers. This is what will create tremendous long term shareholder value and be the true measure of our success."

The e-commerce-as-a-service, or ECaaS, company will use the funds to grow to meet increasing customer demand and hire new team members. Per the release, Cart.com has an "aggressive growth strategy" and has already made five acquisitions to date, including storefront software platform AmeriCommerce, a storage supplies business with fulfillment services across the country, and two digital marketing agencies.

"Competition in the e-commerce market is reaching a precipice, and only those companies with the pedigree, vision, technology and the been-there-done-that perspective will be able to truly shift the surge away from market monopolies and provide power back to the brands themselves to the benefit of the businesses and their customers," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director at Mercury. "Our financial commitment illustrates our confidence in the mission and strategy of Cart.com. The team assembled has incredible opportunity to be a true market leader and pioneer ECaaS in the e-commerce services space."

Houston-based GoExpedi is growing its presence in the Northeast with a new warehouse. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

Houston e-commerce startup expands with new procurement center

Scaling up

A growing e-commerce tech company headquartered in Houston has a new industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair, and operations) warehouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The new procurement center will help GoExpedi meet the increasing demand the company has been seeing in the Northeast.

"We're excited for our new Pittsburgh warehouse as the location was carefully selected to boost access for our upstream, midstream and downstream clients for vital operational products. Our expansion in the Northeast is a major milestone for our growing company and will serve as the starting point for our national push," says Tim Neal, CEO of GoExpedi, in a news release.

The new facility is GoExpedi's sixth warehouse since 2017 — previous locations were in Texas, Wyoming, and California. And, according to the release, the company has several more in the works.

"This is a monumental step in becoming the leading national supplier of efficient, reliable, and cost-effective MRO products for all industrial sectors," he continues. "We look forward to growing our presence, adding talent, and working with more energy customers in the months ahead."

Last fall, GoExpedi raised $25 million in its series C in order to grow and scale operations. The company has raised over $75 million in total investment, according to Crunchbase.

In a recent InnovationMap interview, Neal attributes the growth of GoExpedi to the tech-savvy and younger workforce that's growing in the industrial and energy scene. With more and more people adapting to the tech and convenience of ordering commercially on Amazon and other retailers, these people want that in their professional lives too, he says.

"The mission for us is to make procurement of these (MRO) goods simple and efficient," he says. "We wanted to take a tech-first approach, really make sure people getting these things, but then also track what they're spending to help them more effectively run their business."

Retail trends are affecting Houston's real estate growth, a report from Avison Young finds. Photo via Getty Images

Report: E-commerce soars in 2020 — in Houston and beyond

online shopping spree

This year's holiday shopping season is keeping online retailers hopping. Commercial real estate services provider CBRE predicts holiday e-commerce sales in 2020 will exceed last year's by a whopping 40 percent.

But even before Americans were focusing intently on buying holiday gifts, e-commerce had taken off amid pandemic-generated shopping constraints. In the second quarter of this year, online sales skyrocketed by 44.5 percent compared with the same period in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. E-commerce accounted for a record-high 15.1 percent of total retail sales from April through June.

A forecast from commercial real estate services provider Avison Young indicates the U.S. upswing in e-commerce sales will benefit one segment of Houston's real estate sector more than any other in 2021 — industrial. Riding this year's e-commerce wave, Houston's industrial market will "remain solid" next year, the forecast says.

"Industrial continues to outperform all other asset types," Avison Young's report reads, "but higher vacancies and larger rent concessions will continue in 2021 as the new supply outpaces immediate demand. Online shopping is strong, and national retailers are building large distribution centers and last-mile facilities throughout the metro."

The forecast cites several industrial projects underway or recently leased in the Houston area:

  • A 1 million-square-foot spec warehouse under construction in Baytown, near the Port of Houston. It's said to be one of the largest spec industrial facilities underway in the U.S. The developer is Hunt Southwest Industrial Real Estate. The warehouse is set to open in March.
  • A 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center under construction in New Caney for home improvement retailer Lowe's. The $65 million project, which will be the largest industrial facility in Montgomery County, is supposed to be ready for occupancy in July.
  • A newly completed 402,648-square-foot facility that online retailer Costway is occupying in Pasadena, near the Port of Houston.
  • Dunavant Distribution's expansion into a 784,000-square-foot leased property in Deer Park, near the Port of Houston.

Various e-commerce players are relying more and more on regional distribution centers, last-mile distribution facilities, and micro-fulfillment centers throughout the Houston area, according to Avison Young. E-commerce behemoth Amazon is driving a lot of this activity. For instance, the retailer is planning a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Missouri City. That space is scheduled to open sometime in 2021. Meanwhile, an 850,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center is on tap for nearby Richmond.

In a third-quarter report, Avison Young noted that 15.1 million square feet of industrial space was under construction in the Houston area and 4.1 million square feet of industrial space had been completed, with net absorption of 1.1 million square feet.

The Port of Houston is helping propel many of the moves in Houston's industrial market. In October, the port notched its busiest month on record, with cargo activity sailing 15 percent above the same period in 2019. Operators of the port hope to begin work on widening of the Houston Ship Channel in 2021.

Nationally, this year's spike in online shopping rocked the retail boat. This surge has produced new generations of retailers and consumers, Avison Young says, and has put pressure on the entire supply chain. Furthermore, it has accelerated chatter about the road ahead for last-mile delivery and brick-and-mortar retail.

"Existing retail space, which was either redundant or surplus to requirements, is being repurposed to facilitate 'click and collect' models," per the report. "Retailers are adjusting the 'front end' consumer-facing component of the store for showroom or experiential space to complement traditional browse-and-buy activity. In-store staff, coupled with technology investments, are being channeled into order picking and back-of-house fulfillment activities."

"Traditional stores were always a combination of the retail and logistics functions; recent trends suggest a renewed recognition of this dual role," the firm adds. "As surplus retail space becomes cheaper and more available, innovations around hyperlocal delivery will be a key part of reimagining the future of retail."

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Exclusive: Houston logistics SaaS startup raises $2.5M seed round

money moves

A Houston company that's providing software solutions for middle-mile logistics challenges has raised fresh funding.

Velostics Inc., which has an enterprise software-as-a-service model that specializes in automating inbound logistics at industrial facilities — like terminals and warehouses — announced it has raised $2.5 million. The seed round was led by Kansas-based Flyover Capital with participation from Small Ventures USA, Cultivation Capital, Starboard Star, Congress Avenue Ventures and BioUrja Ventures.

Founded by Gaurav Khandewal, Velostics targets the $37 billion inbound logistics management market, a so-called "log jam" for businesses that the company's software strives to make flow a lot more optimally.

“Flyover is incredibly excited to support the Velostics team in their mission to transform inbound logistics,” says Keith Molzer, managing partner at Flyover Capital. “This segment of the supply chain is ripe for better technology to address challenges of congestion, driver labor shortages, and the growing demands of ecommerce. Gaurav and team are an exceptional group of entrepreneurs ready to drive efficiency and a better customer experience at industrial facilities.”

The fresh funding will go toward recruiting top talent for Velostics's team, particularly in its account management, inside sales, and marketing departments, as well as continuing to develop the AI-driven product, which has an impact for both its users and the environment.

“Idling trucks waiting outside facilities emit over 42 million tons of CO2 annually — eight times the US national average. By orchestrating the movement of trucks in and out of facilities, not only do we provide tremendous supply chain benefits, we also help the environment," Khandewal says in the release. "We’re excited to partner with our customers and our investors to solve global congestion.”

Flyover Capital was founded in 2014 and has a keen interest in the Houston market, Dan Kerr, principal at the firm, previously told InnovationMap.

Houston is "one of the cities among those that fall in our region where we plan to spend a significant amount of time," Kerr said in May of last year. "We cover a lot of ground, but there are certain cities were we try to get there quarterly. Houston is definitely one of those places."

In September, Khandewal joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and discussed how he has been a champion of Houston innovation since he started ChaiOne in 2009. He shared how he thinks the city has a great opportunity to be a leader in logistics technology.

"I think that there are some trends in Houston that I'm seeing as a founder, and one of them is logistics," Khandewal says on the show.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne and Velostics Gaurav Khandelwal is the CEO and founder of Velostics. Photo courtesy

Houston VC-backed tech founder on reinventing a sales team and supporting financial independence

Houston innovators podcast episode 112

Four years ago, Samantha Ettus found herself as a keynote speaker in a room with thousands of ambitious and talented women. It was a conference for multi-level marketing sales associates and, as Ettus found out later, most of them — despite their talent and passion — were losing money on whatever product they were selling.

"I realized there was a problem. There obviously was a need — all of these people want to be doing something outside of their families that gives them fulfillment and meaning and has goals associated with it — but they also want to be earning money," Ettus says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And the first part was being fulfilled — but the second part wasn't."

Ettus created an alternative to check both of those boxes. Park Place Payments is a fintech startup founded in 2018 in California. Houston was one of the initial six test market for the business model, and the company now has over 1,000 account executives across all 50 states. Sales team members are trained for free on how to sell Park Place's payment processor service to local businesses.

Ettus says the payment processor industry is competitive and most small business owners are very disappointed with the customer service they receive. The average business changes payment processors every three years, Ettus says, and Park Place wants to change that.

"Payments is an industry where something always goes wrong," Ettus says. "As a small business owner, if you can't reach someone — that's really important for the livelihood of your business. ... We really think of ourselves as an outsourced payment partner for small businesses."

This past year has been one for growth for Park Place, Ettus says, and earlier this year, she closed on the company's seed round, which was supported by Curate Capital, founded by Houstonian Carrie Colbert. Now the company is focused on its tech team, including hiring a CTO. Early next year, Ettus hopes to close a Series A round, again with support — financially and otherwise — from Colbert.

"I feel so lucky because a lot of people pointed us to traditional Silicon Valley VCs in the beginning, and I had a lot of conversations. I didn't feel some of those firms had the patience to grow with us," Ettus says.

The company has been tied to Houston from its early days, from testing the business in town to a Houston-based early hire, Nancy Decker Lent, who is a founding member of the team and head of product for Park Place.

Ettus shares more on her passion for supporting financial independence for women and how she plans to grow her company on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston startup shakes up antiquated hiring process for the next generation

new way to hire

Companies across the country have been requiring resumes and cover letters from their new hire hopefuls since the World War II era, and it's about time that changed. A startup founded in Houston has risen to the occasion.

Houstonian Samantha Hepler had the idea for SeekerPitch when she was looking for her next move. She felt like she had developed a formidable career in digital transformation and had worked with big name clients from Chevron to Gucci. However, she couldn't even get an interview for a role she felt she would be a shoe-in for.

"I knew if I could just get through the door, a company would see the value in me," Hepler tells InnovationMap. "I wasn't being seen, and I wasn't being heard. I didn't know a way to do that."

And she wasn't alone in this frustration. Hepler says she discovered she was one of the 76 percent of job candidates who get filtered out based on former job titles and keywords. At the same time, Hepler says she discovered that 80 percent of companies reported difficulty finding talent.

Samantha Hepler had the idea for SeekerPitch based on her own ill-fated job hunt experience. Photo courtesy of SeekerPitch

"I was just a symptom of a larger problem companies were facing," Hepler says. "Companies were using algorithms to dilute their talent pool, and then the hires they were making weren't quality because they were looking for people based on what they've done. They weren't looking at people for what they could do."

SeekerPitch, which is in the current cohort of gBETA Houston, allows job seekers to create an account and tell their story — not just their job history. The platform prioritizes video content and quick interviews so that potential hires can get face-to-face with hiring managers.

"We empower companies to hear the candidates' stories," Hepler says. "We're bringing candidates streaming to computer screens. We are the Netflix of recruiting."

Hepler gives an example of a first-generation college graduate who's got "administrative assistant" and "hostess" on her resume — but who has accomplished so much more than that. She put herself through school with no debt and in three years instead of four. SeekerPitch allows for these types of life accomplishments and soft skills into the recruiting process.

SeekerPitch profiles allow job seekers to tell their story — not just their past job experience. Photo courtesy of SeekerPitch

Over the past few years, a trend in hiring has been in equity and diversity, and Hepler says that people have been trying to address this with blurring out people's names and photos.

"Our belief is that connection is the antidote to bias," Hepler says, mentioning a hypothetical job candidate who worked at Walmart because they couldn't afford to take multiple unpaid internships. "They can't come alive on a resume and they won't stand a chance next to another person."

SeekerPitch is always free for job seekers, and, through the end of the year, it's also free for companies posting job positions. Beginning in January 2022, it will cost $10 per day to list a job opening. Also next year — Hepler says she'll be opening a round of pre-seed funding in order to grow her team. So far, the company has been bootstrapped, thanks to re-appropriated funding from Hepler's canceled wedding. (She opted for a cheaper ceremony instead.)

Right now, SeekerPitch sees an opportunity to support growing startups that need to make key hires — and quickly. The company has an ongoing pilot partnership with a Houston startup that is looking to hiring over a dozen positions in a month.

"As a startup, your key hires are going to make or break your company — but you have to hire quickly," Hepler says. "That's the ultimate challenge for startups. ... But if you don't hire well it can cost your company a lot of money or be the demise of your company. It's people who make a company great."